Lover boy, dashing hero to character actor: Rishi Kapoor signs off at 67

He was my first crush. When Ravi pines for Kanchan in Zamaane Ko Dikhaana Hai (1981), I pined for Ravi a.k.a Rishi Kapoor.

It was not Kapoor's most memorable film but I was a kid. It was followed quickly by the superb Prem Rog (1982). Dev’s passion for Manorama, the way he protects her from being mistreated as a widow did it; Dev was the man for me. Kapoor’s death at 67 is sad, just like it was when his character died in Deewana (1992). That is when Shah Rukh Khan, who debuted in the film, enters. By then Kapoor was on his last leg as leading man.

But Prithviraj Kapoor's grandson and Raj Kapoor's son had two generations worth of acting in his DNA. He wasn’t finished yet.

He transitioned, not very smoothly, to supporting roles and shone once again. In Pyaar Mein Twist, Fanaa (2005, 2006) and in the superbly played D-Day (2013) and Kapoor & Sons (2016) among his 162 films.

“Acting was in my blood and there was simply no escaping it,” says Kapoor in his delightfully anecdotal autobiography: Khullam Khulla, Rishi Kapoor Uncensored.

If Indian cinema has a first family, it is the Kapoors and Rishi was surrounded by actors like Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and a house that was open to everyone in the fraternity. From Madan Puri and K.L. Saigal to Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, someone or the other was dropping by. He grew up listening to discussions about music, stories, cameras, budgets and what not.

When Raj Kapoor cast him in Mera Naam Joker (1970), he was totally ready. His very first performance won him the National Award.

Mera Naam Joker failed pushing R.K. Films into debt. To get out of it Raj decided to make a teenage love story with Rajesh Khanna, but didn’t have the money. That is how Kapoor became the lead in Bobby (1973), one of the biggest Hindi hits of all time.

If like me you missed the whole Khel Khel Mein, Kabhie Kabhie and Rafoo Chakkar phase his autobiography helps catch up with a young Kapoor. His approach to the craft was spontaneous. He didn’t understand why people had to get into the skin of a character by staying in the zone or becoming that character. “How is that acting then?” was his question.

Like most of the Kapoors he loved his food and drinks and many of the stories are around what a drunk Kapoor did.

My favourite Rishi Kapoor story is how he signed on Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). He was shooting in Bikaner for Laila Majnu (1976). And in those pre decent-telephone lines eralightning calls were the way to get in touch over long distances. At 7:30 pm one evening Kapoor got a call from Manmohan Desai.

“All I heard, standing in the reception and hollering over a really bad phone connection was that he wanted me to play Akbar. So I bellowed back, “How can I play Akbar? My grandfather played Akbar (in Mughal-e-Azam),” says Kapoor. In his mind he’d pictured some bizarre plot involving Marc Antony (Julius Caesar) and Akbar (Mughal-e-Azam).

Manmohan Desai was known as the master of the ludicrous and Kapoor did not put anything past him. When they finally met Desai set him right, “Akbar is the name of the character you dolt, you are not playing Prithviraj Kapoor.”

They went on to do six films, including, Naseeb (1981) and Coolie (1983) together. He was cute, spontaneous and believable in every one of those.

Goodbye Rishi Kapoor. May you live as fully in the other world as you have in this one.


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